AMD Radeon RAMDisk Review
Everyone wants a faster, more responsive system and there are a number of ways to get there. Unfortunately, upgrading a processor or migrating to an SSD involves investing huge amounts of money in hardware that will likely be obsolete in no time. But there is a middle ground. Long before the advent of solid state cache drives, enthusiasts were utilizing a portion of their system’s RAM as a way to augment system load times. Due to a number of factors, RAM drives faded from memory but they are back in our mindsets due to three main reasons: plunging memory prices, expanded hard drive sizes and the relatively high cost of larger capacity SSDs.
While Intel has decided to forego official support for secondary RAM drive implementation (there are several third parties that do support it though) AMD has charted a different path. By teaming up with software manufacturer DataRAM, they have created a simple, easy to use solution called Radeon RAMDisk which essentially sections of a portion of memory as a secondary drive. This virtual drive can house application data and allows ultra-quick access to your most-used files or programs. We first alluded to its presence within the Trinity APU review.
AMD’s RAMDisk software currently comes in two downloadable flavors: A free version and an “Xtreme” edition which will put you back $18.99. The free version is what most people will gravitate towards since the included feature set is identical to that of its bigger brother, albeit with some severe capacity limitations. It allows users to create a RAM drive of up to 4GB, though anyone using Radeon-branded memory will get access to 6GB of space. Meanwhile, Radeon RAMDisk Xtreme ups maximum capacity to a more reasonable 64GB and eliminates the always-present “upgrade now” popup which appears in the free version. Regardless of that path you choose, RAMDisk is compatible with all current AMD sockets like FM1, FM2 and AM3+ along with Intel platforms as well.
Without a doubt, the free version is an excellent starter service but the smaller drive size it creates is horrendously small. This translates into less programs being accelerated and ultimately slower overall system performance than a larger dedicated RAM drive would provide.
Price may be a concern but AMD’s $19 Xtreme is competitively positioned against the alternatives. 30GB cache drives like OCZ’s Synapse and Corsair’s Accelerator routinely go for about $70 and conversely, 1600MHz 32GB DDR3 memory kits can be found for $150 or less, allowing you to tackle system memory and better performance in one swoop. So from a cost perspective at least, the Xtreme version seems to make perfect sense as a partial substitute for an SSD cache and you can always expand it in the future with additional memory.
In its most basic form a RAM Drive / RAM Disk is a virtual hard drive which uses a portion of your system’s memory as a storage device. You ‘format’ this portion of memory just like you would a hard drive partition and assign it a drive letter. As far as the operating system or any software is concerned, this new drive is just another storage medium, just one that has unusually low latency and ultra-high read / write performance.
Consumer grade memory may be extremely fast, but it was never designed with long term storage in mind; once power is lost any data stored in the RAM is toast. This is where AMD’s Radeon RAMDisk software enters the equation. It not only creates a user configurable drive, but also saves any data on the RAM drive to your system’s HDD at set intervals and before shutdown. The information is then restored to the RAM upon system restart.
Radeon RAMDisk goes about its process via a kernel level driver and some highly specialized configuration abilities within the software itself. Unfortunately, this whole process leads to noticeably increased start-up and shutdown times but in return, consumers are able to physically install programs to the RAM drive without worrying about software compatibility issues. For example you could install your most used application or – space permitting – install your favorite game and enjoy load times which will make even an SSD seem slow by comparison.
With a software stack that boasts a straightforward interface and highly flexible levels of user input, Radeon RAMDisk can be considered a nearly plug and play solution. Free Mode is limited only in the size of RAM drive you can create and is otherwise fully functional while Xtreme simply opens up additional capacity options. Both can be downloaded from the AMD landing page but for this review we will be using the Xtreme product.
Once the software is fully installed, RAMDisk will present a simple configuration utility that loads with a number of presets. We recommend that you closely study each one and its effects. We chose a 24GB partition which was set to autosave a compressed image every 5 minutes to the C drive in order to maximize data safety. In addition, the “Load the image on startup” option was enabled so the system would have quick access to the information stored on the RAMDisk. All of these options – besides image compression– are set to OFF by default so make sure they are set to your preferences before proceeding. Once this is accomplished, just press the Start RAMDrive button and a new dedicated, blazingly fast drive should appear within Windows, ready for system and application files.
With the help of a mid-range system consisting of an AMD FX-6300, Gigabyte 990FXA-UD5 motherboard and a 32B kit of Kingston’s HyperX Predator modules we will investigate the viability and usability of AMD’s new software solution. While everyone loves seeing massive synthetic test scores, they aren’t effective at showing the positive and negative aspects of RAM drives in the real world. For this reason we will be focusing solely on real world scenarios: application and game load times, real world data transfer performance and OS boot times.
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